Understanding Islam: Cleanliness in Islam

Understanding Islam by Muhajid Navarra

Cleanliness is next to godliness. This is perhaps one of the first quotes that we learned from school. Legend has it that this was first recorded from a sermon by John Wesley in 1777 but its roots could be traced back to many different cultures way before modern Christianity. 1500 years ago, Prophet Muhammad said the same thing, ‘Cleanliness is part of faith.’ And just like the golden rule, this tenet that Islam shares with the rest of the world only proves that humans have been created by Allah to have natural inclinations towards the good and beautiful. 


Muslims are enjoined to perform acts of cleanliness in order for them to keep their bodies healthy. Prophet Muhammad said, “Among the practices which are the characteristics of the natural disposition of human cleanliness is circumcision, shaving the pubic region, clipping the nails and cutting the moustaches short.” 

Although these acts of cleanliness are all physical, Muslims do these in hopes of getting a reward from Allah by obeying the example of Prophet Muhammad. Circumcision is a unique ritual that is done by Muslims for hygienic and religious reasons. Some other people or culture may do it also but it is never done for the sake of being part of one’s faith but for mere hygienic purposes. In fact, in the Philippines, we are the only Christian country in the whole world that regards circumcision as a tradition that could never be neglected. We even look at not being circumcised as taboo unlike in other Christian countries like Europe and the United States where it is perfectly fine not to be circumcised. And the truth about circumcision in the Philippines is that it is a tradition that we have inherited from our Muslim ancestors.  

Shaving the pubic region or the area around the private parts is also a Muslim religious tradition that is practiced by some other people for cosmetic purposes in order to wear a swimsuit and others. In the earlier times, human sanitation issues arose especially among sailors and others that they get infected with lice even in their pubic hairs. Doctors at that time prescribed the application of medicated powder to the affected areas when it could have been easier to simply shave the pubic hairs altogether. 

Clipping the nail, although mundane in most part of the world is in fact very healthy because germs could easily stay within the fingernails and be transferred easily and could even be consumed. Trimming the moustache is also another Muslim hygienic tradition as thick moustaches could get in the way of eating and contaminate the food that one is eating. The beard, although legislated for Muslim men to be left to grow does not interfere with eating such as the moustache. 

Prophet Muhammad even instructed the Muslims further by setting a time limit that each act of purification should be done every forty days. Friday, the day of congregation is good day to practice these traditions as it is easier to perform.


Muslims are encouraged to keep their houses and living spaces clean. Muslims are required that they should be kept clean at all times as the jinn or evil spirits that have the ability to harm humans are known to live and thrive in filthy places such as dumpsters and toilets. It is even discouraged for Muslims to speak, recite the Quran or mention the name of Allah inside the toilets. 

When using the toilets, Muslims are advised to be careful so that urine or feces do not come in contact to their skin and clothing that will negatively affect some of our major acts of worship. 


Purification is also a prerequisite in many different major acts of worship. In the five daily obligatory prayers for example, it is important that the Muslim’s body, clothing and place of worship are free from filth such as human and animal blood and excrements. Any evidence of the presence of such filth such as smell, color and texture shall require that such filth must be removed first and foremost before the performance of the prayers.  The presence of filth may invalidate any act of worship that require purification. 

Muslims are required to keep themselves clean after they clean themselves. That is why it is prescribed for Muslims, male and female to urinate and defecate while sitting in order to protect themselves from any filth that gets scattered. They are also advised to clean themselves thoroughly. Muslim women, during their menstrual periods are prohibited in performing the prayers and they must clean themselves properly after their menstruation. 


Perhaps the most unique way that Muslims understand purification and cleanliness is that Muslims put great emphasis on internal or spiritual purification. Muslims believe that physical purity is important but spiritual purity is even more important. Spiritual purity of the Muslims is the purity of their belief in the oneness of the one and only true God that is worthy of being worshipped – Allah. Any form of belief that is harbored in the heart that is contrary to the oneness of God is considered as spiritual filth. 

Polytheism or the worship of other gods other than Allah is the primary filth that will nullify the purity of one’s heart. Belief in sorcery, superstitions, omens, showing off, hypocrisy and ill-feelings against fellow Muslims and human beings such as envy and jealousy affect the purity of the human heart. 

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